Can Australian Shepherds and Cats be Friends? How to Introduce Them

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

CAT AND AUSSIE

In cartoons and movies, cats and dogs are depicted as arch enemies.

While their instincts sometimes lead to aggressive interactions, cats and dogs can share friendships, especially when properly trained and socialized.

But are Australian Shepherds good with cats?

Australian Shepherds are good with cats when trained and socialized, especially from a young age. Shepherds tend to have well-rounded temperaments and are relatively accepting of cats. However, their herding instincts and high prey drive may lead your Australian Shepherd to chase or nip your cat.

In homes where both animals are well-loved, cared for, socialized early on, and properly introduced, they can form lifelong friendships.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ll talk about Australian Shepherd relationships with cats and kittens, including how to facilitate a healthy relationship between them.

Are Australian Shepherds Naturally Aggressive or Friendly Towards Cats?

An Australian Shepherd’s behavior toward cats can depend on the dog themselves.

Some Aussies are explicitly bred as working dogs with the purpose of herding livestock.

Dogs bred for this reason tend to have a strong prey drive and more aggressive temperaments.

Other Australian Shepherd lines are bred for companionship.

These dogs are better for homes with cats or kittens, as they’re more laid-back.

While Australian Shepherds are not naturally aggressive towards cats specifically, they have a natural prey drive and strong herding instinct, despite the breeding line.

Aussies will attempt to herd people and other animals, including cats.

This behavior often involves nipping ankles, heels, hands, and sometimes even the face.

They may also use their heads to push on animals and people, and in some instances, they may give chase.

These behaviors don’t necessarily mean the Australian Shepherd is displaying aggression.

It’s simply their instinct. However, these instinctual behaviors can lead to biting if measures aren’t taken to correct them.

Fortunately, Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent. They’re easy to train and want to please their owners.

According to the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA), Aussies, if adequately socialized with cats (especially from a young age), make fine companions for felines. 

How Territorial Are Cats?

Felines are naturally territorial creatures. Both males and females defend their territory to some degree.

However, males typically have a larger territory than their female counterparts.

Cats will mark their territory by spraying urine, patrolling, and rubbing their bodies against objects, people, and other animals.

To defend their territory, cats will stalk, chase, and ambush any suspected predators or intruders.

They may even hiss, swat, growl, bite, and scratch.

Some cats are very aggressive when another animal or person enters their territory, whereas others may run and hide.

When cats show territorial aggression, it’s usually displayed and directed towards other felines.

They can, however, direct aggression towards people and dogs.

A cat may attack when introducing an Australian Shepherd into a home where a cat already has an established territory.

The dog is essentially entering the cat’s home, and there may be some initial aggression.

How Territorial Are Australian Shepherds?

Australian Shepherd with another dog

Aussies are loyal, dependable dogs that form strong relationships with their family.

They tend to be naturally possessive and protective. This love and loyalty can lead to extreme territorial behavior in Australian Shepherds, including biting or attacking a person or another animal in the home.

Early socialization and obedience training are necessary for Australian Shepherds.

That’s because they have intense energy levels, and exercise and training measures can help lessen it properly.

Fortunately, their loyalty, dependability, and intelligence make them ideal for obedience training, including socializing them with felines.

They generally have a sound temperament, so it’s not uncommon for Aussies to develop loving bonds with other animals.

I Am Already a Cat Parent, and I’m Thinking of Getting an Australian Shepherd

Learn more about safely introducing your pets and how you can make things less stressful for both animals.

All introductions must be supervised and handled with patience.

You’ll be working at the cat and dog’s pace, not your own.

Introducing an Aussie to a Cat or Kitten

Before introducing an Aussie dog or puppy to your cat or kitten, be sure that you’re ready.

Here are the steps you need to take to introduce the two animals safely and effectively:

1.- Keep the cat or kitten in a separate room for a few hours or up to a day. Make sure the cat is comfortable and has food, water, and a clean litter box at all times. This sequestering allows the dog to take in the scent of the feline, and the cat can take in the dog’s smells and sounds before seeing one another.

2.- After a few hours or a day, prepare for the meeting by immediately exercising the dog or puppy. Exercise ensures that the dog is calm and more responsive to commands.

3.- Open the door to the bedroom where the cat is sequestered and allow the animals to see one another. Don’t let the dog chase the cat or kitten. Use commands to keep the dog or puppy in line while the cat becomes used to the dog’s presence. If the cat runs or hides, don’t follow. If the dog attempts to chase or becomes overly excited, separate them and try the next day again.

4.- Reward both animals with praise and treats.

5.- Continue these steps until there are no signs of stress or hyperactivity in either animal upon seeing one another. Once the dog or puppy no longer showcases extreme excitement, you may try a longer, retractable leash in preparation for off-leash introductions. However, be sure that your feline has a safe place to escape at all times.

aussie and cat walking

Always introduce a cat and a dog slowly. Be sure that your cat has a designated area in the home to escape to, should he feel stressed out.

How To Introduce a New Australian Shepherd Puppy to My Kitten

Raising an Australian Shepherd and a kitten together is beneficial because it allows them to be introduced before experiencing a negative interaction with another dog or cat.

When introduced at an early age, the Australian Shepherd’s natural prey drive and herding instinct may not have kicked in yet, which could make introductions easier. 

However, there are some challenges. Puppies aren’t yet trained, so it’s more challenging to introduce them to a kitten, as the puppy won’t respond to commands.

Use the method mentioned above to socialize an Aussie puppy and kitten.

How To Introduce a New Australian Shepherd Puppy to My Adult Cat

An adult cat may not be thrilled at the idea of a new puppy in the house.

As mentioned earlier, cats are territorial, and you’re essentially bringing another animal into their marked territory.

In cases of established adult cats, the friendship between the two will likely depend more on the puppy than the feline.

The method mentioned in the section “Introducing an Aussie to a Cat or Kitten” is a great starting point for initial meetings.

How To Introduce a New Adult Australian Shepherd to My Kitten

If you’re going to bring an adult Australian Shepherd into your home, try to choose a dog that’s already familiar with cats.

Whether you’re adopting from a shelter, rescue, private breeder, or individual, they should be able to inform you whether the Aussie has already been socialized with cats or kittens.

Never get a dog with a history of aggression towards cats if you have a cat in your home.

Adult Aussies that are already well-trained and respond to basic commands are generally easier to introduce to cats and kittens and will typically respond well to the introduction method mentioned in this post.

How To Introduce a New Adult Australian Shepherd to My Adult Cat

cat sleeping

Introducing an adult Australian Shepherd to an adult cat follows the same process as the others.

Still, it might take more time, especially if either has had a negative experience with a cat or dog before.

Familiarity and gradual introduction are the best ways to introduce them.

Start slowly and then ease into things until it becomes routine.

I Am Already an Australian Shepherd Parent, and I’m Thinking of Getting a Cat

When bringing a new kitten or cat into your home with your Australian Shepherd puppy or dog, you must be patient.

These introductions can be dangerous, especially for the cat.

Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those that are generally easygoing can react instinctively to a cat that’s running.

Introducing a Cat to an Aussie Dog or Puppy

Introducing a cat to a dog or puppy follows the same primary method as introducing an Aussie to a cat or kitten.

1.- Keep the cat or kitten in a separate room with a clean litter box, food, and water. Be sure that you’re providing your cat interaction throughout the day. Separating the two pets will allow your cat to sense the dog or puppy’s presence before the meeting. You can take a toy of the cat’s to let the dog or puppy become used to the cat’s smells as well.

2.- After a few hours or up to a day, exercise the puppy or dog immediately before the meeting. Be sure they’re adequately exercised and calm.

3.- Put the Aussie on a leash, open the door to the bedroom, and allow the cat to see the Aussie and vice versa. Again, don’t let the Aussie chase the cat. If there’s an altercation, the dog is overexcited, or the cat runs and hides, separate them and try the next day again.

4.- Reward with praise and treats.

Repeat these steps each day until the animals are used to one another. You’ll know that it’s time when there’s no observed hyperactivity or attempts to chase. At this point, you can try a closer interaction on a retractable leash. Eventually, you should be able to do off-leash introductions.

How To Introduce a New Kitten to My Australian Shepherd Puppy

As mentioned earlier, introducing kittens to Australian Shepherd puppies tends to be easier because no negative interactions have taken place.

Young animals are less likely to have had negative experiences with other cats or dogs, so there’s less initial fear.

CAT AND AUSTRALIAN

To introduce your kitten to your Australian Shepherd puppy, use the method mentioned in the previous section.

How To Introduce a New Kitten to My Adult Australian Shepherd

When introducing a kitten to an adult Australian Shepherd, you must work slowly and patiently.

Before you even think about introducing a cat or kitten into your adult Aussie’s home, you need to work on your Aussie’s behavior and training. 

They should be comfortable on a leash and know and respond to basic commands, such as sit and stay.

If the dog tends to chase other animals such as squirrels, rabbits, or birds, break this habit before bringing another animal into your home.

While not a large breed, Australian Shepherds are still powerful and can be dangerous to small animals.

Even if they’re not aggressive, playful acts can injure or even kill a tiny kitten.

To introduce the two:

  1. Follow the method mentioned in the “Introducing a Cat to an Aussie Dog or Puppy” section, but keep the dog on a leash for a couple of weeks in the cat’s presence.
  2. Keep the two separated until you’re sure they can interact safely.
  3. Supervise both pets during any potential interaction.

How To Introduce a New Adult Cat to My Australian Shepherd Puppy

In this situation, puppies might be eager to meet the cat, but the cat might not feel the same.

You must follow the method mentioned in the “Introducing a Cat to an Aussie Dog or Puppy” section.

Puppies tend to be more rambunctious than adult dogs, so your cat must always have a safe space where he can go to isolate if he feels the need to do so.

How To Introduce a New Adult Cat to My Adult Australian Shepherd

Introducing adult animals takes more time and patience and should be done slowly and meticulously.

Gradually build up the amount of time that the animals spend together.

As time goes on, make the introductions rewarding by offering treats and lots of praise.

How long an adult cat and adult dog take to get used to one another depends on their temperament, histories, and how you socialize them.

Australian Shepherd with a person

It helps to work at their pace; never force interaction between two animals.

Use the information in the “Introducing a Cat to an Aussie Dog or Puppy” section for introduction steps and information.

Can Cats and Australian Shepherds Be Left Alone Together?

Australian Shepherds and cats shouldn’t be left alone together until you know that they can coexist.

That means no chasing, biting, hyperactivity, or other unwanted behaviors from either. Until the animals become familiar and comfortable with one another, there are dangers to leaving them together unsupervised.

One animal could hurt or even kill the other.

If you must leave the two animals alone in the same house, be sure to crate the dog or give the cat a safe, secure place to go with food, water, and a litter box.

For more extended periods, it’s a better idea to board them.

If you’re having a friend pet sit for you, be sure they know to keep the cat and dog separated.

Once the two pets have become secure with one another and there’s no fear of fighting, aggression, chasing, or territorial behavior, you may begin practicing leaving them alone.

Start by leaving the room but staying nearby in case there is an altercation.

But only do this if you feel confident that the animals are comfortable and secure with one another.

If you have any doubts, keep them separated when unsupervised until you’re convinced that they can coexist safely.

How To Facilitate a Successful Friendship

To facilitate a friendship between an Aussie and a cat, you need patience.

Never let them work things out on their own.

That method is stressful and can lead to trauma, which can eventually cause the cat or dog to despise the other and ruin their chances of developing a healthy relationship in the future.

It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and enjoy each other’s company.

CAT AND DOG TOGETHER

Take the time to manage the introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that’ll last for the rest of your pets’ lives.

Use the introduction steps mentioned earlier in this post to give your pets the best chance at forming a solid bond.

Always keep both pets comfortable and secure.

Keep a watchful eye on their behavior and look for any signs of distress, especially early on.

Signs Your Australian Shepherd Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Feline Sibling and How To Intervene

Signs of stress in an Aussie including:

  • Growling
  • Excessive barking
  • Whining
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Running in circles
  • Freezing or cowering when the cat is near
  • Tail between the legs
  • Whites of eyes are revealed
  • Ears are tucked back
  • Hackles are raised
  • Excessive lip-licking
  • Panting
  • Avoiding eye-contact

If your dog begins showing these signs after introducing a new cat or kitten to their environment, first visit your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues.

Once medical issues have been ruled out, consider starting the introduction process over.

Always intervene if the animals are fighting or if one is constantly bothering the other.

Be sure that both animals have their designated place to go to get away from the other.

If necessary, look into behavioral training for one or both of your pets to eliminate any territorial issues or aggression.

Signs Your Cat Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Canine Sibling (How To Intervene)

ANGRY CAT

Signs of stress in a cat or kitten include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Excessive grooming
  • Isolating themselves for long periods
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Decreased appetite or lack of eating
  • Increased sleeping
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Raising hackles or lifting back

If your cat is showing signs of stress, rule out any medical issues with your veterinarian.

Once any medical problems are ruled out, again, separate the two animals.

Be sure that the cat has a safe place to go when they’re stressed out, and be sure that the dog isn’t tormenting the cat. 

Leash the dog again and reintroduce the two using the methods mentioned earlier in this post.

Work slowly and deliberately until they’re comfortable.

Also, look into behavioral training to help curb any unwanted behaviors.

Conclusion

Dog and cat relationships get a bad reputation in the media. These two animals have coexisted for hundreds of years in human habitations when socialized.

While Australian Shepherds are working dogs with a prey drive, they can learn to tolerate and even form loving relationships with cats and kittens.

All in all, Australian Shepherds are easily trained dogs that can get along with cats with the correct socialization and training. 

Australian Shepherd with snow

Sources

  • American Stock Dog Registry: Australian Shepherd
  • United States Australian Shepherd Association: FAQs
  • ASPCA: Aggression in Cats
  • Australian Shepherd Club of America: Is an Aussie Right For You?
  • OSU Indoor Pet Initiative: Introducing Dogs and Cats
  • AKC: Australian Shepherd Dog Breed Information
  • Countryside Veterinary Clinic: The Awesome Aussie

Read my post on whether Australian Shepherds make good family dogs

Marcelle Landestoy

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